Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tel Aviv and my own personal ghetto

Once again, I wake up in as early as possible in the morning yet finding it difficult, being a well-known night creature; fact that doesn't surprise anyone for such is the life of a writer, of a journalist and of an academician. Three positions which without any conviction I withhold but mediocrely and as an expert generalist I can't claim being an specialist on any topic at all but rather a dilettante with a rich background of well-known phrases and quotations from the least known authors. That shouldn't preclude me from writing at all, grabbing a few cigarettes and a cup of bad coffee and remembering the dreams to which I woke up, awful lot of memories and hyperrealistic impressions that remind me of my preoccupations and anxiety the day before. Religion in glasses of wine and old love stories in empty bottles, without messages, without answers and even without questions.

By this natural order everyone would agree that there's nothing sympathetically peculiar about me, for such is the life of many others citizens of this overpolluted planet, many of them who write as a morning hobby before work, others who do it as a profession or just because there's nothing else to do. And indeed there's nothing sympathetically peculiar, I myself agree, except for the fact of living in an experimental country, whose shortcomings might be understood by the empirical sociologist as the consequence of years of hatred, painful standings and a long decadent history. My country is a sociological laboratory in which an old Semitic cult which became the most influential world religion, with its legal codex and Holy books unaltered for over 2000 years attempts unsuccessfully to conciliate with the highest values of democracy, freedom of speech and liberalism. Yes, it sounds like a big contradiction and I myself doubt whether such conciliation is any possible, even in my own wishful thinking, even in my apathy. Those facts are largely ignored by most people, including my fellow citizens. The State of Israel is actually that, the State of Israel. Far from being a democratic country, far from being a tyranny, far from being a Jewish state, far from being an halachically-correct state, leave asides politically correct; far from being anything at all other than a country.

As a convinced Zionist ideologist this bunch of ideas terribly pains me, for I'm unable to find under the present circumstances a logical reason in the eyes of Jewish history for why this country should exist at all, other than the definitions of a Jew that the world of Christianity and heathenism have given. And after almost 60 years of existence I believe we the Jewish people have lost the enduring battle of our own existence and of our own conservation, not implying in any level that there's no Jewish people but rather no reasonable ground to justify its existence other than the bias of the good old Semitic cult that I have myself foregone ever since my childhood; outside the world of the Bible and the Talmudic sages I find it hard to explain why this people should exist at all, why this people could have managed to survived their tragic history and why this people should have a country at all. This is of course all in theoretical ground, and it's not actually reasonable to write an objective article on the matter being myself a Jew, or rather a proud Jew, yet lacking most Jewish identity, other than a language and a culture that originated in the freedom of the State of Israel, in the streets of Tel Aviv and the German-founded universities.

In reality, despite the failures of our Zionist principles the such country actually does exist, a chaotic milieu, half post-modern and half medieval, enclaved in the Middle East striving between the values of the ancient religion and the quest for modernity and equality. The country constitutes a brilliant example of Biblical promises, of how the Jews escaped the teeth of the wolves and landed on boats and returned to the land of their ancestors to reclaim their throne as the descendants of King David. This experiment, as full of historical dramatism as it sounds, was relatively successful and emotionally overwhelming for the people that lived in the western world at the time, and even for those who live there today; not so much for most of us who populate the country itself. Facing the surprising fact that after almost 60 years we've almost entirely forgot the principles that initially brought us here and that had been keeping us under terrible yearnings and fondness over a long period of human history; we simply became another country, another "people", and earned for ourselves that recognition that had been stripped away from us several centuries ago, we strived for legitimacy and eventually outreached our enemies, our friends and our own history. At what price? This is the question that troubles me, we seem to have forgotten history, we seem to have chosen legitimacy and democracy over identity and conservation.

And probably as many American Jews would put it, we seem to be using success as our only way to prove a point, in order to grant ourselves the legitimacy of "we made it", we succeeded in our struggle for equality in a somewhat painful way, by foregoing most of our original values and creating new ones that would give some ethical ground to our struggles; and mostly I can say we simply became another country, the Israelis, just like the Germans or the Americans, because "we made it here", and we probably left the "Jews" (and in a semantic context the word "Jew") out of this picture, and we don't seem to care much about them unless it's convenient for us, for our geo-political struggles or in order to justify our existence when our quasi-democratic values weaken and tremble and then nothing else could be sufficiently powerful as to grant ourselves redemption other than finding comfort in our long history and the troubles of our brothers in the diaspora, without forgetting that this country might well be the only safe and "official" shelter for Jews in distress, without mentioning the complicated issue of who is a Jew. Unfortunately our daily life is well different, is well less meaningful. In the day-to-day life of Tel Aviv sometimes history commenced in 1948, sometimes commenced yesterday, probably right after a long love affair or an old exhausting job. And only when death hovers on us with its delicate and unavoidable breath we are prone to remember the 2000 years that came down on us before all this happened, before the internet age, the mobile phones and the gay life of Tel Aviv. Short memory I'd call it, our own way of self-denial, for we find no other way to deal with the heavy weight of our own history, of our own historical identity, of our own troubles. Somehow else we just endure the same moral and social troubles of any other western country, just not exactly being one and not dealing with them as one.

In the bottom line we "needed" to build a country of our own, because it was a Biblical promise; but the reasons that brought it into existence seem to be far from the Biblical promise to the Jewish people. Maybe we built a country because after the jewels of European Jewry were wiped out in the concentration camps there was nowhere else to go? Because not us, but the enemies set up the ground on which someone would be considered a Jew or not? Maybe because the Hitlers and the Arafats of the world are the ones granted the right to say who is a Jew and who is not? I'm not intending to turn my back to this country for I'm this country, in each and every single aspect of my life; but maybe I'd like to review the theoretical grounds on which we granted ourselves the rights to settle down here and not just to settle down, but to build a society, not that we don't have them, but how do we understand them? How do we determine them at all? Of course I'd the the first one to agree that after hundreds of years trapped in the ghetto I feel just comforted to walk around this country and feel free, it's our own personal and collective struggle for freedom and lack of determinism, our dreaming and wandering souls and the longing of a tragic past. I just feel these days that even when the ghetto is not there anymore, we keep thinking our lives so. In our survivors mentalities after so many hundreds of years I'm not so sure that we've left the ghetto at all, and that we're not trapped in our own dynamic reality without much regard for the outside world.

These winter days, although I don't get depressed, I do contemplate with a certain longing the practices of Orthodox Judaism and somehow it touches me deeply, but nevertheless I feel like standing on a point several thousands of kilometers far away from it, and in despite that nothing can just strip off my connection to the Jewish people, my feeling of being a son of a king and my ideal of social action for the Jewish people, probably my only personal way to live Zionism and Judaism by itself. I feel somehow denying our origins and our legitimacy as a people just in order to be like "everybody else". I don't know if others noticed already, but we didn't really succeed. We're not like anyone else, even in Tel Aviv and next to the Mediterranean Sea I can feel as if the ghetto has just shifted the colours of the buildings and the income bracketts.

Despite of the internet era, casual sex at ease and our skybreakers, our minds are still in the shteytelach of the good old times, for we can't close 2000 years of history in one go, and I don't think we even want. Despite postmodernism and equality and freedom I don't think we made it all through, we might be justified, but understood? I certainly doubt it. Maybe we'll be a democracy, maybe we're, maybe this is just a crazy dream; but we're paying a very high price for it. Wars, internal divisions, a growing despise for our religion and cultural heritage, deep identity conflicts and an apathy that nothing can cure, not even death. I'm not calling up anyone to turn to the other side, I wouldn't do it myself. Just like yesterday after my daily Talmud study group travelling back home on a bus I hear a program in the radio led by a prominent Ultra-Orthodox figure. During the 10 minutes intervention I heard the most awful discourse on the Jewish religion. According to the halachic view there's no democracy in the Torah, there's only a king that rules mercilessly over his people and subjects them to his will as he wishes, the Torah is a heavenly dictatorship. I wonder if that's how I want to raise up my children like, and doubt whether I want them raised up as I myself was.

Heavenly or not, I prefer actually our half broken identity and half granted legitimacy within the boundaries of democracy. You can say I'm a traitor, you can say I'm a Greek. But as a Jew after 2000 years and a a long personal history in the search of this Judaism I only want to make peace with the world, to grant myself the right to exist, to think that it's right to be a Jew, that it's not an issue anymore. I don't think I or anyone else is succeeding, specially if you're an intellectual. But we might just try, we might just get another chance. We were given the choice too, even by the merciless king that rules over our faith. I know most of our Jewish theory might be just tears and non sense, overdramatizations and extrapolarizations, but it's just too late in history to regret all that, it's just too late to give up, it's just too late to give up our identity, it's just too late to leave the ghetto, to leave Auschwitz. Maybe at this point we just need to go on with life, legitimate or not. Messiah is not coming, said Marx and even Wiesel, but we're still waiting for redemption.

Even in Tel Aviv, I can't claim I know that many people who wouldn't take a seat back when hearing the word Jew anywhere in the world. My freedom is a bit of an understatement, I believe myself being free and legitimate in this country, hence I can deny everything my own life was built in and for, at least according to historical determinism. Yet overseas I'm not who defines what or who is a Jew, and somehow I'm not that self secured that I really want to leave the ghetto at this point. A bit of denial every day, cups of coffee, cigarettes, a trip to Paris, a good partner, all that... maybe will do the trick. I still think I need to succeed in order to prove a point. I'm not sure I want to be a doctor in anything at all, but I do know I "have" to get a Ph.D, because I have to "make it", ironic no? Not even inside the land of Israel I give up on the thought that I actually have to make it. As D. Wang would put it, our collective ghetto, and my own personal ghetto; even in Tel Aviv.

Good morning State of Israel. Are you also "making it" today?

No comments: